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September 20, 2014

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election 2012:

Candidates in state Senate race disagree over taxes

When the Republican Senate caucus decided to get involved in GOP primaries with an eye toward picking more moderate candidates who would be most competitive on Election Day, they backed Assemblyman Scott Hammond over a conservative fellow assemblyman.

Hammond, a freshman in 2011, is a public school teacher who voted to extend taxes in 2011 over the cries of anti-tax conservatives.

But out of the four competitive state senate races in Southern Nevada, Senate District 18, which covers the northwest of the Las Vegas Valley, is the only seat where Republican voters outnumber Democrats. And Hammond is the most reticent of the Republican senate candidates to commit to extending those taxes again for another two years, as Gov. Brian Sandoval has indicated.

“I’ve not given my full support on that yet,” Hammond said, choosing to wait until December, when a state board makes projections on future tax revenues for the next two years.

Democrat Kelli Ross said she supports extending the sunsetting taxes, saying the public schools can’t be cut further.

But, she added, “I’m not a proponent of higher taxes, period. I know it makes me sound so Republican.”

If she makes it to Carson City, Ross said she would favor broadening the tax base by lowering some levies — such as on vehicle registrations or payroll — and extending other taxes to business who she believes don’t pay enough.

“I look forward to getting there,” she said. “I’m like a dog with a bone.”

In the broader picture of which party controls the state senate, SD18 is the safest Republican seat and will be Democrats’ biggest challenge. Republicans are trying to win four out of five competitive races, including SD18, to take back control of the state’s upper chamber. Democrats currently hold an 11-10 lead.

Ross owned a small electrical contracting company before it fell victim to the Great Recession in 2008 and is the wife of Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross. She said one issue to improve Clark County schools is to look at how the state distributes money between Southern Nevada and the rest of the state.

“Up in Northern Nevada, they have been able to benefit from a lot of things we do in Clark County, which is the economic engine of the state,” she said. “We have to adjust the formula so we can keep more money in Clark County.”

Hammond, who teaches high school Spanish and government at a public school, said he hears the frustration of his fellow teachers.

“They’re feeling burdened,” he said. “You can see it. It’s palpable.”

But he also believes the School District and state have to build credibility on spending. When he’s knocking on doors while campaigning in the district, some residents “have this idea that we throw money at the School District and it gets sucked into a black hole. We need transparency,” he said. “I want that perception to change.”

Hammond said he wants a real discussion about allowing parents and students to choose among public schools, charter schools and private schools. He pointed to models in other countries, where state money follows the individual students.

“If we have an adult discussion, everything should be on the table,” he said.

He also said that regulations can be an impediment to businesses growing in Nevada or moving here, but he would not cite any specifics.

Ross said as the owner of a small business for 10 years, she’s well aware of the challenges that businesses face.

Ross’ campaign has been backed by labor unions, and she is unable to point to any policy disagreements she has with them.

But, she said, issues such as how public employees bargain with local governments to how much workers on public construction projects get paid are vital for Nevada’s middle class.

“I’m not just a proponent of labor. I’m a proponent of the middle class,” she said.

Construction workers need to be retrained in new industries, she said.

But, she said, whether it’s prevailing wage or collective bargaining, she’s willing to listen.

“I’m not drawing a line around anything,” she said. “You have to be open. You have to listen.”

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